Commentary: Air Force places strong emphasis on values

By Chief Master Sgt. Jon E. Mountjoy: 27th Special Operations Group chief enlisted manager

Our Air Force core values: Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence In All We Do, are not just what we do, they’re who we are. We emulate these values because they are the standard for behavior, not only in the Air Force, but in any orderly society. Many young people, however, have not been taught values at an early age by their parents, teachers or clergy. This means that some must be shown the difference between right and wrong behavior. By living the Air Force core values every day, we set the strongest example for our airmen.

Use every opportunity to reinforce the three Air Force core values. Demand that your airmen know them and are able to articulate what they mean to the Air Force but to their unit and themselves. Ask them to explain real-life examples of appropriate actions and behavior demonstrating each value. To help reinforce this, you could ask them to explain how they or members of their unit have demonstrated Integrity First, Service Before Self or Excellence In All We Do.

The ancient Greeks held that an army of deer led by a lion is to be feared more than an army of lions led by a deer. I wholeheartedly concur. Any good unit has good leaders. Most “good” units will take on the character of their respective superintendents and commanders. If he or she is hard-charging, upbeat and motivated, those qualities will be echoed throughout the unit and, most importantly, into the airman’s way of life. Conversely, leaders who are timid and fearful develop units that lack rock-solid dependability.

The professional officers, who serve the men and women in uniform, need to be leaders of character. They are the standard bearers who should set the example in all they do. For them, the Air Force’s core values ought to be their own. The same holds true for senior non-commissioned officers. We certainly ought to expect the same levels of professionalism from our SNCOs as we do from the officers appointed to lead them. However, I do not think that we can reasonably presume the same level of professionalism will resonate from our more junior non-commissioned officers. I am not excusing behavior, nor am I suggesting junior NCOs need not be professional. They certainly do! However, they have not had the same education and experiences as their senior leaders. This distance is even more exaggerated in the case of our lower enlisted members. We want airmen who can think, airmen capable of discerning blatant right from wrong. However, we cannot reasonably believe that 18- to 21-year-old airmen have the same levels of discernment as our NCO and SNCO corps.

After contemplating the challenges we face in leading, educating and mentoring our airmen, I am not entirely convinced they will become people of good character from simply memorizing our core values or reading a book on leadership. What will be more effective than any lecture on core values is exposure to leaders who continually exhibit character, courage and integrity. When airmen see their leaders do the right thing, they receive a lesson in what personal courage and integrity is all about. As we progress through the ranks, we take on increasingly greater responsibilities. It is not unusual find yourself outside your comfort zone and feeling overwhelmed. Despite this, it is imperative to appear confident and decisive. We owe it to the men and women we serve.